The House Republicans have opened a subtle new front in their battle with the Obama administration for the hearts and minds of sequester-addled D.C. visitors. As anyone who holds a passionate fondness for the Capitol’s beauty, history and import will attest, it’s a fight the legislative branch ought to be given a decent chance to win.
Last week, when the White House announced that its most visible compliance with the spending cuts would be the cancellation of its public tours, GOP leaders were quick to pounce with the predictable rhetoric: The president was making a politically petty and unwise move, thinking he was punishing the lawmakers who hand out almost all the tickets when the real sufferers would be the 11,000 school kids and others denied access to the mansion every week, all to save $2 million a year in Secret Service overtime. But fear not, the Republicans said, Congress had made smarter spending reductions so the real “people’s house” can continue welcoming all visitors as usual.
To underscore the point the House Republican Conference quietly unveiled a video Tuesday called “Your House.” In just 90 un-narrated seconds, it beautifully illustrates why so many of the people of Capitol Hill view their workplace as a more worthy icon of American democracy than the house down the way – and have always hoped that their frescoed corridors and vaulted chambers would replace the State Floor as the ultimate Washington tourist mecca.
It’s too soon for decent data on how much busier this spring break will be for the red-coated Capitol guides now that the White House is off limits. But there’s a strong argument to be made that high tourist season should set records. Visiting the Capitol deserves to be recognized as in many ways the better experience. Thanks to the Capitol Visitor Center, the tours are less hurried and more overtly educational than the way-too-rushed and self-guided White House experience. And actual governmental work gets done in many of the Capitol’s rooms, often by celebrity lawmakers, while the public is passing through. A trip to the president’s home cannot promise the same.
For now, it’s not a fair fight. One is open and the other closed. By the time the White House buckles to the pressure and reopens its East Wing magnetometers, one silver lining of the sequester could be solid word of mouth for the Capitol as a destination, even if the people working there remain held in record low regard.